Colonel Surry’s insanity

Volume 6 Number 10 October 11 - November 7 2010

Associate Professor Neil Cole’s first book raises issues for him that are very close to the bone and difficult to deal with. By Silvia Dropulich.

His book Colonel Surry’s Insanity was driven by a desire to better

understand mental illness, in particular his own mental illness, bipolar disorder.

The novel explores the life of Colonial John Surry, a fictional character based on fact. Colonel Surry, a manic-depressive, pleads not guilty to the crime of theft on the grounds of his insanity.

No one has ever pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity for a theft matter, according to Associate Professor Cole.

The book recounts the course of Colonel Surry’s mental illness during his army service in the Second World War, in the Middle East, in the Pacific and after the war leading up to this event. The event takes place in the 60s against the backdrop of the insanity of the Vietnam War, which he totally opposes.

“While my experience of bipolar mood disorder has considerably informed the novel, I did interview over 20 people to gain insight into the illness other than my own,”Associate Professor Cole says.

“The book gives insight into these illnesses in a way that nothing else can.

“It is also about academia meeting the public half way.”

Colonel Surry’s Insanity has been described as the definitive work on bipolar disorder.

Associate Professor Cole, a prolific playwright, works at the Mental Health Research Institute where he is investigating the links between creativity and mental illness.

Commenting on the difference between writing a novel and a play, he observes that the former is a lot harder as it requires a lot more concentration on the words.

“The need to show and tell is imperative in both a novel and a play, though for me it is a lot harder with a novel,“ he says.

A lawyer and a former member of the Victorian State Parliament for over a decade, Associate Professor Cole was the first politician in Australia or overseas to admit to having a mental illness, namely bipolar mood disorder.

Colonel Surry’s Insanity is published by Beagles Den